Month: January 2017

Review of ‘Lucifer Eve and Adam’

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God is mostly pleased with her creation, except for one small snag. Eve and Adam, who were put upon the earth to be the parents of humankind, don’t exactly see eye to eye. Eve is a gatherer of words and knowledge, while Adam is . . . just Adam; totally self-absorbed and not in a mood for ‘talking.’ God puts the angel Lucifer in charge of setting things right—or else. Lucifer has 11 hours and 11 minutes to get things back on track. But, he has a handicap, or a blind spot, he doesn’t want ‘his’ children to know love, which is essential if they are to procreate, because if they know love, they will also know hate and despair. Because he loves them so much, he wants to spare them the misery of such knowledge. He has a devil of a dilemma.

If you’re one of those people who are sold on the traditional, patriarchal, vengeful god of the Old Testament, and the belief that mankind was born in ‘sin,’ and Eve’s betrayal by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, you’ll find Lucifer Eve and Adam: the absolutely true and completely honest story of Creation by Peter Wilkes and Catherine Dickey Wilson disturbing. This little story, inspired by Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary, told in cinematic form, gives an alternate version of the Garden of Eden story that is far from the version you learned in Sunday school.

A thoroughly entertaining, and provocative tale that nails the difference between the genders square on the head of the nail upon which an uncounted number of angels—led by the dapper Lucifer—dance. It might challenge your beliefs, and depending upon those beliefs, might even upset you. On the other hand, if you have an open mind, it might just give you food for thought. Whatever, it will surely entertain you.

A five-star concept executed in five-star style.

Review of ‘The Cost of Crude’

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When Gwynn Reznick’s best friend and co-worker at Wilton Oil and Gas dies in an auto accident, she suspects foul play. Her suspicions are validated when Reuben Dordi, a PI hired by the girl’s grandmother to investigate her death, shows up on her doorstep. He’s looking into several other suspicious deaths of people connected to the company. As Gwynn gets caught up in his investigation, her life is turned upside down.

The Cost of Crude by Inge-Lise Goss is a down and dirty look at the energy industry, where high profits cause people to shed any semblance of humanity in their chase for money. The story follows Gwynn as she delves deeper into the macabre machinations of people who are willing to kill for dollars, and in the process she learns things about herself that she’d never known.

Although Gwynn’s transformation from meek clerical worker to dashing agent is at times a bit incredulous, the story is nonetheless an entertaining read. The ending, after so much bloody action leading up to it, was somewhat anticlimactic. This author shows promise, though, and I look forward to seeing her work as she matures in her craft.

I give this one three and a half stars.

5 qualities of a brilliant story

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Nail Your Novel

3389004318_2e8d3200fb_zI write a lot of posts about problems with book drafts. But isn’t it just as important to look at the positive? If we listed the qualities of a brilliant read, what would they be? (Plus, I think we need a feelgood post.)

So, as I sit here on Sunday morning in London with an hour to get this post out of my head and into the grey matter of the blogosphere, this is the list I’ve come up with. I hope you’ll storm your brains and join in at the end.

Here goes.

Deft use of details

A writer needs to give a lot of details to evoke the setting, time period (if it’s not contemporary), distinguishing features of the characters, points about the weather. A skilful storyteller will smuggle a lot of these in as part of the action. A historical period might be evoked by showing a character…

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Review of ‘Operation Tropical Affair’

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A few weeks into her field training, US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Poppy McVie busts a couple of bear poachers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the midst of that operation, she’s called by her boss and told that she’s being reassigned. Her new assignment; go undercover in Costa Rica with a special operations team already in place to bust an animal trafficking ring.

In Costa Rica, Poppy has to deal with Special Agent Dalton—just call me Dalton—who is wary of having an untested female agent assigned to the operation, even though her cover is as his wife. It doesn’t help matters that they’re attracted to each other, Even worse, Poppy finds herself drawn to an animal rights activist who is after the same illegal operation for his own purposes.

Operation Tropical Affair by Kimberli A. Bindschatel is well-written thriller that takes a deep dive into the illegal animal trafficking business, while at the same time giving the reader a close-up view into the emotions of the characters. Masterfully plotted, with lots of action, this is that rare message novel, it gets the message across without preaching, and it entertains. This author knows  her stuff.

Five stars for an entertaining read.

Review of ‘Lucky Bastard’

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As the newly promoted vice president of customer relations for her father’s casino, Babylon, Lucky O’Toole hasn’t encountered a problem she couldn’t solve. Then, the body of a young woman is found in the casino’s on-site auto dealership with a stiletto heel embedded in her throat. Paxton Dane, a PI and so-so friend, is suspect number one, especially when he announces that the dead woman is his wife.

Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts is another tour de force featuring our six-foot tall, fashion and relationship-challenged heroine as she tries to track down the killer—afraid that Dane is her man. When two more corpses turn up, one, an apparent heart attack on one of Babylon’s private planes and the other a cyanide poisoning of one of the casino managers in the car park, the hunts up, and Lucky becomes one of the killer’s targets.

Coonts knows Las Vegas, and she apparently knows the characters who dwell therein, because she writes about them with a ring of authority and authenticity. Like a carnival barker, she knows how to get you to ‘step right up’ to see the action, and she doesn’t let you go until she’s wrung the last bit of curiosity out of you.

I received this book as a gift. Oh, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Donald Trump’s War’

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I’m a long-time fan of Philip Gibson’s #Hash Tag Histories. The previous offerings have been events in history conveyed via social media postings, mainly Twitter. Donald Trump’s War is the most recent of Gibson’s books, but with a startling difference. Instead of a past event, Gibson takes a speculative look at the future, the future of Donald Trump’s presidency, and given Trump’s fascination with tweeting, it is hopefully not predictive.

The author starts with a fact; 18 days before the inauguration, Trump tweeted that North Korea’s claims to have tested a missile capable of reaching the United States was ‘fake,’ and it ‘wouldn’t happen.’ From this point, it’s all (hopefully) fiction. Shortly after assuming office, Trump is advised by his national security staff that North Korea has, in fact, successfully tested a long-range missile. He must now decide what to do. Through a series of national security meetings interspersed with Trump’s tweets, we’re introduced to his administration’s national security decision making process. What unfolds is eerie, and eerily credible. Gibson has nailed each of the personalities based on what we know of them at present, and as someone who has participated in such for a in the past, I found it uncomfortably easy to imagine just such conversations taking place.

One can only hope that Gibson is not as good at predicting the future as he is at portraying the past.

I give this #Hash Tag History five stars.

DONALD TRUMP IS A LOSER, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

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Art Smukler, MD - Books & Thoughts


Donald Trump is the president of the United States. These are his current accomplishments.

Millions of women from all over the country and world find his attitude and style deplorable. Misogynism, sexism and bigotry are not what they want in a person, much less a president. They marched in every major city in the country to express their powerful feelings that would give them equal rights with men in the market place, pro-choice and the right to not be personally and sexually exploited.

Trump is on the verge of making the US the largest country in the world to sabotage climate control. His rationale is that his way will lower production costs and produce more jobs. Short term gain versus long term planet disaster.

Trump will cost the country billions of dollars to treat and care for millions of unwanted children who will be born…

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Review of ‘Redemption River’

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Hunter James left Mercy, Mississippi with a broken heart. To get away from the woman who betrayed him, he joined the army and became part of an elite task force, assigned to do the missions that needed to be done in the shadows. When a mission goes sideways, and he is injured and loses one of his team, he is sent home to convalesce. But, along with his R&R, he’s assigned a mission: find out who in Mercy is planning to supply arms to the terrorist he and his team has been tracking. In order to do so, though, he must reconnect with Evangeline Videl, the woman he left home to get away from. She is involved in the gun running, and his job is to get close to her to bring the ring down. The problems begin as soon as he sees her. He realizes that he still loves her. For her part, she thought he’d run away and deserted her, so she took up with the man who became Mercy’s mayor, only to discover that he had a dark, brutal side, and now he is threatening to destroy her family if she doesn’t do what she wants.

Hunter and Evangeline are forced to put aside their anger at each other and seek redemption. It’s the only they and their loved ones can survive.

Redemption River by Lindsay Cross is an interesting book. While some of the military action strains credibility, the Mississippi setting is extremely well done. Some of the action scenes get started well, and then are brought to abrupt conclusion, with more detail devoted to the physical encounters between Hunter and Evangeline.

This first book in the Men of Mercy series shows promise, and one can only hope that they will improve with each successive book. This one, though, I can only give three stars.

Review of ‘Past Aghast’

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After an emotionally wrenching experience in Iraq, army doctor Jack Bass is retired from the military, and takes a job as head of the department of anesthesiology of a southern university hospital. When two clinical specialists are brutally murdered, the chief of university police focuses on him as the main suspect. At the same time, a medical student who witnessed the murders is also targeted.

Past Aghast by Edwin Dasso is a gut-churning medical thriller that explores the effect of PTSD while at the same time presenting a tightly-written mystery as Bass copes with his debilitating condition and struggles to protect those he loves. At the same time, he must expose a dastardly plot that reaches high in the hospital hierarchy.

Even though the bad guys are pretty quickly identified, the author still manages to keep the suspense high with some pretty smartly-crafted action scenes This could turn into an interesting series should the author be so inclined.

I give this one four and a half stars.

Painting a country estate

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I don’t usually copy other paintings, preferring to come up with my own creations, from life, photos, or my imagination. But, my wife has some favorites, and as the dominant partner in our collaboration, insists that I do my interpretation of some of her favorite paintings. This country estate, on an old calendar that she refuses to throw away, is one of her all-time favorites. I’ve done a small version, that she sketched, and which is a fairly good copy, but she wanted a larger version, so after some argument, I caved and let her sketch it and put the sketch on my easel. She’s pretty good at sketching, but has a problem with linear perspective. She made the house too large, had the curve of the path wrong, and made the umbrellas all the same size. I ignored those problems as I painted in the sky and background, and began putting in the dark trees at the right. Here, I’ve put in the dark trees on the left, corrected the size of the umbrellas to give a sense of distance and size in what is obviously a garden in front of the house. I did an under-painting of the path, and right away she saw her mistake, so that’ll have to be corrected as I begin working on the foreground. Here, I’ve added curve to the path, painted in the flowers, and done the over painting of the path and painted in the shadows. It’s beginning to look better, although she’s now upset with the size of the house. It doesn’t help that I told her at the outset that it was too large. This is the final painting. I’m not unhappy with it, but you can bet she’ll want more changes, so I’m likely to have to over paint large portions and redo it significantly, so stay tuned.

Source: Painting a country estate

Review of ‘A Mighty Fortress’

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Iraq War veteran Milo Porter is a PI in Tampa, Florida. He does routine process serving work by day and coaches a powerlifting team for his girlfriend’s brother at night. One Sunday, a local lawyer asks him to deliver a summons to the grandson of a powerful mobster. He doesn’t normally work on Sunday, but for $6,000 he’s willing to make an exception.

The summons isn’t easy to deliver, but Milo manages. And then, the mobster’s kin is found dead, and his grandfather wants someone’s head—Milo’s will do. As he tries to find out who did the killing and why, he learns that the only crooks worse than the mob are the police.

A Mighty Fortress by S. D. Thames is the first book in the Milo Porter mystery series, and a promising start it is. The lead character has flaws, like any good PI, but is principled and never gives an inch where those principles are concerned. The author has provided an interesting supporting cast of characters; a girlfriend who can lift more weight than the hero, and a sidekick who is a cable guy. The setting, Florida’s vacationland, is painted in stark colors—this is not ‘Miami Vice’—and the action moves at a varied pace, sometimes slow and languid like the flight of a heron over a placid pool, and sometimes as fast as the strike of a Timber rattler.

This series is going places.

Five stars.

Alternate realities

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Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, used the term ‘alternate facts’ when describing the brouhaha over the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. I think this administration actually does inhabit an alternate reality. Before the inauguration, Trump did a bit of a Twitter rant aimed at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his country’s claim of having a missile that can reach the U.S.  While anything Kim or the DPRK does is cause for concern, getting into an online pissing contest with the man is foolhardy, and not a wise way to make policy. Trump’s action shows just how much he does not know about the world – especially the Asian concept of face.On the other hand, these two are like two playground bullies. Neither of them is capable of backing down from a challenge, taunt, or insult.Oh, woe is us!

Source: Alternate realities

Review of ‘Killing Me Softly’

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Love is a wonderful thing, but when it’s obsessive it can be deadly. Documentary filmmaker Sondra Ellis is still coming to grips with the senseless murder of her sister, Tracy. When she runs into Tracy’s ex-boyfriend, she becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened that night when Tracy disappeared after going out jogging, and then was found days later, dead on the lakeshore with her face smashed in. Was it really a mugging gone wrong, or something more sinister?

Killing Me Softly by Bianca Sloane was originally published as Live and Let Die. The author, an indie writer, decided to republish it with minor revisions and a  new cover and title. I didn’t read the original book, but, if it was as good as this new version, Sloane is an author to watch. She walks us through the complexities of the characters’ lives, and shows in graphic detail how an obsession can turn deadly, and leave scars that are slow to heal.

Even though we know what happened, Sloane still manages to keep the drama high, and the reader guessing what will happen next.

If you like tense, page-turning thrillers, look no further. I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Elixir’

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Elixir is Ted Galdi’s first book. The story of child prodigy, Sean Malone, who won over a  million bucks on Jeopardy and has an IQ of 250, and while in college at age 14 solved a mathematical problem that brought him to the attention of high-level government agencies who want to control him.

The story follows Sean from childhood to adulthood in a somewhat choppy fashion, and while it’s interesting, it could use a bit of line editing to make it read more smoothly.

The theme of the book is good, but I give it three stars for the writing.

Review of ‘Sam’s Song’

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Cardiff-based private enquiry agent, Samantha ‘Sam’ Smith is, like many independent PI’s, struggling to make it. When she’s hired by the agent of a pop star to identify a stalker the star claims is hounding her, she takes the job only because she needs the money. Then, a muck-raking journalist who was also the pop star’s former lover is killed, and her current lover is the main suspect, she’s asked to prove him innocent. As if she doesn’t have enough problems, her abusive ex-husband pops back into her life.

Sam’s Song by Hannah Howe is a fast-paced mystery. It follows Sam as she gets caught up in high-level shenanigans that threaten her very life. Filled with pop culture references and earthy action, this is a fairly good page turner.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Thank You, President Obama

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My sentiments exactly.

Chief Writing Wolf

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious…

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Review of ‘Night School’

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Night School by Lee Child is the 21st book in the Jack Reacher series, but it is takes us back to Reacher’s early years when he’s still a major in the army MP Corps.

One morning he’s given a medal for the successful conclusion of a big mission, and that afternoon he’s assigned to a training course; a vague course in an isolated location just outside Washington, DC. The class has only two other students, an FBI agent and a CIA analyst, both of whom, like Reacher, have just successfully finished big cases. They soon learn, though, that this ‘is not a school.’

Washington has received information that a Jihadist cell in Hamburg, Germany received a strange note: ‘The American wants a hundred million dollars.’ Who the American is, and what he is offering for such a sum is unknown, but the fear is that it means a massive terror attack. The three are assigned to find the American, learn the potential target, and put a stop to whatever is planned.

Fans of Jack Reacher will love this story. It’s classic Reacher, a man of few words, but lots of action, who thinks and acts outside the box to get the job done. The action is nonstop, and in true Jack Reacher form, often bloody. This one is a prime candidate for a movie.

I received this book as a gift.

A great five-star read.

Review of ‘The Descendant’

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Ava Davenport is not your normal human. Unknown to her, she’s the product of a mating between a human and a member of another species from another dimension, possessed of a special ability that makes her the key to the survival of Earth. The Xemlix, a race that thrives on fear, is intent on taking over Earth and all the other dimensions, and only Ava stands between them and total domination.

Just as she’s preparing for her wedding, she receives a strange night visitor who begins to educate her as to her true nature.

The Descendant by Ally Capraro is a humorous and romantic jaunt that takes the reader on Ava’s wild ride among the dimensions as she learns to control her newfound powers. The prose is a bit on the choppy side, and the author head hops from character to character, which makes for a jarring read. Parts of the story are classic science fiction reminiscent of the sci-fi of the forties and fifties, making it a somewhat entertaining read.

It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I will not describe in detail to avoid spoiling it for those who have yet to read it. Not the best book I’ve read so far this year, but it shows some promise as a series.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Revolt of the Rats’

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Kahle Desireau and  Eli Steiner, two military veterans separated by seventy years and several wars; one acting out of love and the other out of desperation; are men whose lives are heading for a fateful intersection.

Kahle has the ability to see the auras of the dead and dying, and after service in Bosnia leaves the army and takes a dead end factory job to be near the woman he’s obsessed with. Eli, a veteran of World War I, has spent his life after the military helping others, but his family farm is threatened by the Great Depression.

What both men have in common is the will to survive.

Revolt of the Rats by Reed Bitzerman swings back and forth between the two as they struggle to cope with the mind-numbing effect of being part of the legion of ‘factory rats,’ workers consigned to jobs they hate with little future to look forward to.

The story is a bit confusing as it doesn’t make clear the eras the men exist in until very late, and some parts have been poorly edited, with uneven spacing of lines that are disturbing. The ending is also unresolved, leaving the reader to wonder what happens with Kahle and the love of his life.

I give this one three stars. It’s an ambitious effort; showing the individual against the system; but it could use better editing, and the unresolved ending left me a bit cold.


Review of ‘Laying Ghosts’

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Selkie Moon is in a controlling relationship; her husband, Andrew, even has a tracking app on her phone to monitor where she goes when he’s not around, and almost forbids her leaving the house when he’s not with her. But, when she gets a text from a long-lost friend, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina’ she ignores Andrew’s instructions. Her parting with Marina Palivanova, after a traumatic social event at Crystal Cottage that ended their long-time friendship, brings back memories of that dreadful evening. At the cottage, a storm leaves her isolated all night. The next morning, when rescuers arrive and assess the storm damage, they find a skeleton under an uprooted tree. Selkie fears that it is Rina, killed by Frank, her abusive lover, but the skeleton is male, which raises some interesting, but macabre, possibilities.

Laying Ghosts by Virginia King is a short prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series that introduces a character with a trouble past, and stories that combine mystery with the mystic in a way that is sure to grab your attention. This little appetizer certainly whetted my appetite for the main course of the author’s next books.

Five stars.